America Has an Incest Problem

America Has an Incest Problem by Mia Fontaine

“Last year offered plenty of moments to have a sustained national conversation about child sexual abuse: the Jerry Sandusky verdict, the BBC’s Jimmy Savile, Horace Mann’s faculty members, and a slew of slightly less publicized incidents. President Obama missed the opportunity to put this issue on his second-term agenda in his inaugural speech.

Child sexual abuse impacts more Americans annually than cancer, AIDS, gun violence, LGBT inequality, and the mortgage crisis combined—subjects that Obama did cover.

Had he mentioned this issue, he would have been the first president to acknowledge the abuse that occurs in the institution that predates all others: the family. Incest was the first form of institutional abuse, and it remains by far the most widespread.

Here are some statistics that should be familiar to us all, but aren’t, either because they’re too mind-boggling to be absorbed easily, or because they’re not publicized enough. One in three-to-four girls, and one in five-to-seven boys are sexually abused before they turn 18, an overwhelming incidence of which happens within the family. These statistics are well known among industry professionals, who are often quick to add, “and this is a notoriously underreported crime.”

Incest is a subject that makes people recoil. The word alone causes many to squirm, and it’s telling that of all of the individual and groups of perpetrators who’ve made national headlines to date, virtually none have been related to their victims. They’ve been trusted or fatherly figures (some in a more literal sense than others) from institutions close to home, but not actual fathers, step-fathers, uncles, grandfathers, brothers, or cousins (or mothers and female relatives, for that matter). While all abuse is traumatizing, people outside of a child’s home and family—the Sanduskys, the teachers and the priests—account for far fewer cases of child sexual abuse.

To answer the questions always following such scandals—why did the victims remain silent for so long, how and why were the offending adults protected, why weren’t the police involved, how could a whole community be in such denial?—one need only realize that these institutions are mirroring the long-established patterns and responses to sexual abuse within the family. Which are: Deal with it internally instead of seeking legal justice and protection; keep kids quiet while adults remain protected and free to abuse again.

Intentionally or not, children are protecting adults, many for their entire lives.

Millions of Americans, of both sexes, choke down food at family dinners, year after year, while seated at the same table as the people who violated them. Mothers and other family members are often complicit, grown-ups playing pretend because they’re more invested in the preservation of the family (and, often, the family’s finances) than the psychological, emotional, and physical well-being of the abused.

So why is incest still relegated to the hushed, shadowy outskirts of public and personal discussion, particularly given how few subjects today remain too controversial or taboo to discuss? Perhaps it’s because however devastating sexual molestation by a trusted figure is, it’s still more palatable than the thought of being raped by one’s own flesh and blood. Or is it?

Consider how the clergy abuse shook Catholics to their core, causing internal division and international disenchantment with a religion that was once the bedrock of entire nations. Consider the fallout from Sandusky’s actions and Penn State’s cover-up, both for students and football. Consider how distressing it is for Brits to now come to terms with the fact that the man they watched every night on TV in their living rooms was routinely raping kids just before going on air.

Given the prevalence of incest, and that the family is the basic unit upon which society rests, imagine what would happen if every kid currently being abused—and every adult who was abused but stayed silent—came out of the woodwork, insisted on justice, and saw that justice meted out. The very fabric of society would be torn. Everyone would be affected, personally and professionally, as family members, friends, colleagues, and public officials suddenly found themselves on trial, removed from their homes, in jail, on probation, or unable to live and work in proximity to children; society would be fundamentally changed, certainly halted for a time, on federal, state, local, and family levels. Consciously and unconsciously, collectively and individually, accepting and dealing with the full depth and scope of incest is not something society is prepared to do.

In fact society has already unraveled; the general public just hasn’t realized it yet. Ninety-five percent of teen prostitutes and at least one-third of female prisoners were abused as kids. Sexually abused youth are twice as likely to be arrested for a violent offense as adults, are at twice the risk for lifelong mental health issues, and are twice as likely to attempt or commit teen suicide. The list goes on.

Incest is the single biggest commonality between drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, teenage and adult prostitution, criminal activity, and eating disorders. Abused youths don’t go quietly into the night. They grow up—and 18 isn’t a restart button.

How can the United States possibly realize its full potential when close to a third of the population has experienced psychic and/or physical trauma during the years they’re developing neurologically and emotionally—forming their very identity, beliefs, and social patterns? Incest is a national nightmare, yet it doesn’t have people outraged, horrified, and mobilized as they were following Katrina, Columbine, or 9/11.

A combination of willed ignorance, unconscious fears, and naivete have resulted in our failure to acknowledge this situation’s full scope, but we can only claim ignorance for so long. Please reread the statistics in this post, share them with people you know, and realize that each and every one of us needs to pressure the government, schools, and other systems to prioritize this issue. Let’s make this the last inaugural address in which incest and child sexual abuse are omitted, because the way things are now, adults are living in a fantasy land while children are forced to slay the real-life demons.”


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14 Responses to America Has an Incest Problem

  1. little nel says:

    Great post!

    It’s about time that America takes a look at what’s eating it’s young.

    President Obama seems to only care about special interest groups and raising taxes when men like Jerry Sandusky pose a real and present danger to children in America.

  2. Why Not? says:

    Great Post! I love, love, love that Mia Fontaine used the title:

    “America Has an Incest Problem”

    Bravo! Just…. WOW!

    IAMicried Says:

    We must stop brushing it under the carpet because it too painful to discuss. We must recognize what happens when we don’t deal with this problem and collectively put our heads together & find a solution.

    I’m in.

  3. IAMicried says:

    Excellent post. I am an incest survivor and for many years kept my mouth shut for the obvious reasons you stated. In my early 20’s I reached out and got counseling for depression which then led to the underlying cause CSA. Over the years I had on-again off-again counseling/therapy. Always thinking that I’ve dealt with what I needed to at the time, so I moved on. Only to find out later years, I was dealing with another component of the “post” childhood abuse. This past November (2012) after much thought, I decided to “tell” my story via a blog as well. There are so many of US out there struggling to make it through another day, week, month, year. We suffered as a child, and now as adults we continue to suffer. I truly wish society would get their heads out of the hole and take a look around at what is going on. I was just asked yesterday when talking about this subject, “So what is the answer? How do we stop incest and child sexual abuse?”. I don’t have the answer; however, we must stop ignoring that it even exists. We must stop brushing it under the carpet because it too painful to discuss. We must recognize what happens when we don’t deal with this problem and collectively put our heads together & find a solution. We are so concerned about what 2nd hand smoke does to non-smokers. But we ignore the effects of sexual abuse on society as a whole. Pretty ironic I think.

    Thank you for a great post.

  4. mglvsjc says:

    How do we, who have been through it ..speak out to children who may be holding this deep in their subconscious. You don’t want to suggest it…but dear God there has to be a way to help the kids…who have it buried. The harm it does, is really hard to wrap your head around…it’s so massive.

    • Alethea says:

      The way that I speak out to *adult children* is with this Blog. I have had private emails from people who have a feeling something is buried in their subconscious and that something on this Blog triggered it, and they now are ready to deal with it, or to at least consider it as a possibility.

      Others most likely silently read my Blog and something stirs inside them, or even surfaces, from my articles.

      But children are different. I doubt children read my Blog, but maybe. But no family member or friend of a family, or even a mental health professional can suggest to a child that they are being sexually abused, or have been, and are blocking it.

      That would be unethical to do to an adult, and even more so, to do to a child. There really is no way unless someone in the family, or a social worker, suspects something and gently provides loving support to that child to one day feel safe enough to remember.

      Marilyn Van derbur’s therapist/friend suspected she was abused years before she remembered. He gently supported her over the years, and one day, it came out of Marilyn.

      No one’s subconscious brings out the truth until they are ready. Truth only comes to a prepared mind.

      • Why Not? says:

        I believe, telling it like it is, is the best way to “confront” Adults with the message that SEXUAL EXPLOITATION OF A CHILD IS NOT OKAY – in fact, IT’S A CRIME.

        When I started therapy for the incest – I created a series of t-shirts – as a stress reliever – that sent that message in several ways. They were designed using Nursery Rhyme themes, but with a tag line ending that made the point.

        I donated the 100 I had made to my therapy center for a fundraiser and the response was great – especially from those that read them. Wish I could put them on Billboards across the country. 😆

        • Why Not? says:

          One more thing – over the years, a couple of my friends tried to gently engage me with their own suspicions that I had been sexually abused. I was appalled – because I just wasn’t there yet.

          They ‘knew’ long before I did. I’m sure it was because I was constantly engaged in dealing with the “symptoms” – and, unwittingly running from the horrors of the “cause.”

          • Alethea says:

            After I remembered the incest, my very dear friend told me she already knew. She had long suspected, but she was smart enough not to suggest it to me because we can’t go around voicing our suspicions to people when they are blocking it. I was so in DENIAL back then, that if she had said something to me, and then I remembered the incest later on, I would have always wondered if she implanted the idea in my head. I never would have trusted my memories. I always would have wondered.

            Same with my therapist…. she never suggested, hinted, implied, or said a single word about incest until it came from me -from my own memories- two years into my therapy. It took me two years of therapy to pry it out of myself.

            • Why Not? says:

              I watched “Nuts” last night, Alethea. Fifteen minutes or more into it, I remembered seeing it at the theater and leaving for the lobby during the court scene, never to return to my seat.

              I watched it all the way through last night. Brilliant film. Brilliantly acted – brilliant in how it contrasts the many layers in the webs of incestuous families, mental health systems-professionals, the judicial system and, most importantly, the “coping” mechanism of a victim – acting out her childhood trauma – from powerlessness to power in self-victimization to Victor over it all. There is nothing more crazy-making than “incest” – surpassed only by all of the dysfunctional system(s) – where perpetrators roam freely, relatively unscathed with their victims searching endlessly for an escape hatch from the maze of self-doubt. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil… blame the victim, as being the one who is crazy “NUTS.” I loved the film. Powerful!

              • Why Not? says:

                One more thing… my new mantra from the film – “I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR MY LIFE!”

              • Alethea says:

                It is a brilliant film, if one can get through the triggers. I know it has a lot of triggers for rape and abuse victims, but if a previous victim can stay balanced and stick it out, the film is excellent. I am so glad you watched it again.

        • Alethea says:

          I love it! Great idea.

      • mglvsjc says:

        Thanks Althea, you are right, the truth comes out when the time is right…such a waste of life in between though. God Bless you
        for all the help you provide here.

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